After more than four years of expert sleuthing by avid scholars, the James Joyce Literary Treasure Hunt was won last night by a man who had never heard of the competition or seen its intricate, subtly misleading clues. In its sheer, fortuitous banality -- and perhaps in the questions it left unanswered -- the outcome had an appropriately Joycean flavor.

"This is a complete surprise to me," said winner Harold C. Coyle, of Whiting, N.J., a retirement community near Toms River. His wife sent in the winning post card without telling him.

A case of Jameson Irish whiskey -- the key to the treasure hunt, which had a trip to Ireland as its prize -- had been concealed sincesk,1 sw,-1 Joyce's 100th birthday, Feb. 2, 1982, in the basement of St. Stephen and the Incarnation Church, at the corner of 16th and Newton streets NW. At any time between then and Sunday evening, anyone going to the church office and asking for the whiskey in the proper manner could have won not only the Jameson but also two Aer Lingus tickets to Dublin, a horse-drawn carriage tour of the city following the route of Leopold Bloom on the legendary Bloomsday of Joyce's "Ulysses" (June 16, 1904) and a tour of the Guinness Brewery, including all the Guinness the winner and a guest could consume.

Clues to the location of the whiskey, distributed by the James Joyce Society of Washington, included references to the White House, Ulysses S. Grant, Stephen Dedalus (Joyce's alter ego in "Ulysses" and "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man"), the office address of the church (allegedly 3412 Center St. NW) and the name "Noreen," a woman reportedly in charge of the church office.

After announcement of the answer to the riddle last night, it was impossible to verify the office address or the name of the office manager. Phone calls to the church were answered with a recorded message.

Supplementary clues referred to 16th Street, the basement location of the office, a legendary King of England named Stephen (who is falsely reported to have ruled in 1097), church bells, the Incarnation and the name of Center Street. All of this was unknown to Coyle, a who first heard of the contest when Ray Lane of the James Joyce Society of Washington phoned him last night to tell him he had won. The winning post card (drawn by Ann Anderson, press secretary of the Irish Embassy, from more than 6,000 entries) read: "This Irishman would love to make his first trip to Ireland (with his Swedish wife Grace)" and bore Coyle's name and address.

"Saturday is our 45th wedding anniversary, so this is a very nice present," Coyle, contacted by phone, said. "Grace has been entering a lot of contests ever since we've been married, and she always said, 'One of these days, I'm going to win you a prize, Coyley. I think it's the first thing we've won. I don't remember anything else."

The drawing for the prize, with Robert Aubry Davis of WETA-FM as master of ceremonies, was the climax of the Bloomsday celebration by the Joyce Society. Davis reminded the audience of about 500 in Georgetown University's Gaston Hall that the real focus of the celebration was "Ulysses," "a treasure greater than any we will be handing out here tonight."